7 Tips for Creative Brainstorming

Brainstorming is an essential part of leadership as it is a means for engaging your team. Whether it is coming up with ideas for a physical space to inspire creativity or for tackling a challenge presented by an external force, generating creative flow can be crucial to success.

Here are seven techniques I’ve used both in higher education and consulting:

  1. Fiddle with Toys
    Consider including physical objects in your brainstorming sessions. Sometimes fiddling with an object helps trigger creativity or can illustrate a concept. LEGOs are often good things to play with, but pretty much anything will work.
  2. Embrace the Sticky Note Cliché
    I know it is overused, but embrace the cliché and capture ideas on sticky notes that can be organized, reorganized, and prioritized quickly and easily. AVOID the use of software tools in group brainstorming sessions — software can quickly over structure ideas and overpower thinking. Sticky notes can be more organic and fluid. Besides, a sticky note that falls off the wall can be much more interesting (and less devastating) than the loss of a WiFi connection.
  3. Try a Dartboard
    One brainstorming technique involves tossing ideas out as quickly as possible and capturing them in a seemingly unstructured manner on a whiteboard or flipchart, much like tossing darts at a dartboard. When you begin to lose creative steam, you can stop and see where ideas cluster and begin to organize items around larger concepts.
  4. Maximize Time by Minimizing It
    When brainstorming, keep the duration short and focus on getting ideas out into the open without over-analysis or immediate criticism.
  5. Use Pictures
    Whenever you travel, take a digital camera and take pictures of things that inspire you. Look for little things, big things, mundane things, and amazing things. Keep the images on a computer or website where you can quickly reference them during a brainstorming session. As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
  6. Create a Parking Lot
    It is really easy to go down the rabbit hole, so to avoid that and keep momentum up, create a parking lot for ideas, concerns, thoughts, sidebars, or whatever that start to derail thinking. You can always come back to the parking lot later.
  7. Plan a Golf Course
    If you’re brainstorming around a process, create a start and end point at either ends of a whiteboard but not connected by a line. As a group, begin filling in the processes. Chances are that you won’t have a straight line when you’re done, but clusters of actions and activities that when viewed as a whole look like a golf course. Clusters (holes) can quickly map into project areas.